Some time back on Travel channel programme, Househunters International, a young African American flight attendant was featured house hunting in the greater Gaborone.
She was accompanied by her opinionated mother on the mission. The first property they viewed was in a multi residential place in Tlokweng.
Affordable and secure, was the estate agent’s selling point. But to the young American’s mother, security features were what scared her off the most. “Why all these barbed wires? You want to tell me all places in Gaberon are like this?” The complex had been secured with security wall (stop nonsense as we call it), electric fence and barbed wire and a 24-hour response alarm. All windows and doors had steel (butler) bars. Instead of appreciating that her daughter would be safe, she was apprehensive.
This got me thinking. This is a family from one of the most violent nations. America is the land of guns, and people on the streets of New York, California, Chicago, Washington DC and many other cities and towns around the USA live under the barrel of the gun.
Black townships especially are a hotbed of crime, and violence. And this mother was finding our ‘peaceful’ Tlokweng scary.
But once I removed the ‘nationalistic’ hat, and faced reality, I fathomed where she was coming from. While in many developed countries violence is mainly on the streets, in Botswana, we are under siege in our homes.
Even with all these gadgets to protect our homes, violent crimes visit our homes. We may not have daily gun battles on our streets, but we have families raided anytime of the day, and violated. But it was not always like that. For a long time Botswana was seen as a secure and peaceful place. Most of us grew up in homes without security bars, let alone knew there could be a 24-hour security personnel patrol.
In our homes, you could go to sleep with doors unlocked, and in hot summer nights, mats (diphate) came out, and most slept in the courtyard, malapana in village homestead. Occasionally, there would be break-in by a notorious thief; yes we have always had bad apples. But the news was always received with shock. Not anymore. Now we sleep with one eye open, with or without tight security. Add dog security and you are still at risk, as the poor four-legged guards fall victim to poisoning, at times hacked to death by violent criminals.
With the rise in crime, especially in the urban and villages closer to the cities and towns, the government response was to introduce combined night patrols by members of the Botswana Police Service and Botswana Defence Force. This brought a sigh of relief. But not without concerns. I recall the first time, in the late 1990s, I was confronted with army patrols. Living in violent Johannesburg in Gauteng province of South Africa, unpopularly known as Gangsters’ Paradise, I had not been confronted on the streets by army patrols, demanding to know my movements.
One hot night I arrived in my ‘peaceful’ home, only to be stopped and interrogated, by an armed young soldier, wanting to know why we were driving at night.
I was to later learn of a 12-midnight curfew, not publicly communicated. It hit me then, that we as a nation had lost our virginity. Crime had led us to this; the army policing our streets. We were, in a way, a nation under the thumb and rule of the army. It did not help that a military man, Ian Khama, was on the verge of assuming power, albeit democratically.
Suddenly the military officers, always carrying guns we never knew could leave the barracks, were policing the roadblocks, demanding licences and searching vehicles. While we mumbled under breath, not many dared to speak openly against this.
We refused to see such action as anything, but protection from our own bad lot, thugs. But violent crime continued to rise, in our homes. Nobody came to our rescue when we were under attack in the homes, because the muscled men in military fatigue, armed to the teeth were searching for the criminals amongst us, on the streets.
There were even reports of abuse of innocent people. I recall when my village Thamaga was under siege from gangsters a few years back, the army arrived, and anyone seen walking about after 8pm, faced the wrath of these armed forces.
We became hostage to both thugs and security forces. Now we want them back.
Of course, we so much hate violent crimes, one would not blame residents of Mogoditshane for calling for the return of BDF patrols. In their halted march last week, the leaders of the march spoke about the need for the army to come back and clean the country of criminal elements.
Understood. But once we rise as communities to demand to be policed by the military with no policing training, what are we going to say once we lose our streets to the army?
We may need to seriously think this through. Instead of wanting the army patrols back, we should demand proper policing, by the police.
We should stand together, in one voice, to push for resourcing of our police stations - with vehicles, well trained personnel, communication tools and all that is necessary for them to do their job.
Military policing is not the answer. We should guard against anything that will trample on our democratic rights. The army should guard the nation, not police.